Between Experts and Amateurs as Original Equipment Manufacturers

[wikilike_img src=|align=thumb tleft|width=180|caption=Colin Cross, DIY OEM with his open-source, open-hardware cellphone — TuxPhone — it works!|url=]

What is the relationship between experts and amateurs in the world of DIY device craftwork? Has the surge in interest (maybe my own myopia) in maker-style, DIY electronics design and manufacture anticipate a tipping of the scales, where the creation of things previously from within high operational cost corporate R&D labs happens now in the backyard workshop? What does it mean when a community of makers get together to create an open-source, open-hardware DIY cellphone?

How has culture creation and circulation been shaped since the growth of digitally networked communication practices? Has the spread of instrumental knowledge in the form of “How To’s” and “Frequently Asked Questions” about previously highly specialized processes (electronics design, fabrication of printed circuit boards), the increasing commodification of special purpose components, diversity within the ecosystem of digital microcontrollers spurred by competitive pressures, and so forth, created conditions for amateurs to do what was once only an experts task?

What is the amateur in this context? I would say the amateur is the person who engaged in their craftwork without obligation to an employer whose motivation and pressures obtain from a fiduciary responsibility to investors, or pressures from competition-driven markets. That is, someone who is motivated to create something out of an interest to learn a process, address a design challenge, experiment with the goal of creating a useful affordance for themselves or their peer community, oftentimes motivated by sharing and circulating learned knowledge without concern as to holding closely that knowledge as a property to be protected or sold, beyond the cost of time and materials.

Why do I blog this? I am really fascinated by the possibility that lower barriers to entry in the realm of device design, fabrication and manufacture may create the opportunity for small, short-run sophisticated device electronics. It portents a world in which innovation in electronic devices — including media creation devices — can happen at the fringes, end-running the currently entrenched hierarchies in which media playback and recording devices pander to the DRM demands of content creators (who are often the same parties, in many ways.)

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